Brazil’s Supreme Court suspends Telegram messaging app in the country

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BRASILIA — Brazil’s Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes on Friday ordered the suspension of messaging app Telegram, saying it had repeatedly refused to comply with court orders or comply with the laws of the country, according to a copy of the decision seen by Reuters.

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In response, Telegram founder and CEO Pavel Durov apologized for the company’s “negligence” and asked the court to postpone its decision for a few days as it seeks to improve compliance.

Moraes’ decision, which is expected to fuel debate over free speech in a politically polarized Brazil, represents the latest chapter in the crusading battle for justice against far-right President Jair Bolsonaro and his allies.

The president and his supporters are increasingly coming to rely on Telegram as a form of mass communication as big tech companies like Meta, which owns the WhatsApp messaging app, Google and Twitter, have been forced by the Supreme Court to delete the accounts incriminated for allegedly spreading misinformation.

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Moraes led a series of Supreme Court investigations into the president and his supporters for spreading fake news that enraged many on the right and sparked overreach questions.

According to Moraes’ decision, Telegram repeatedly failed to block offending accounts and ignored court rulings.

Durov, the founder of Telegram, blamed his company’s shortcomings on messaging issues, saying “we definitely could have done a better job.” writing on his personal telegram accountDurov asked the court to delay its decision.

“We missed his decision in early March which contained a follow-up withdrawal request. Fortunately, we have now found and dealt with it, delivering another report to the Court today,” he wrote.

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“I am certain that once a reliable communication channel is established, we will be able to deal effectively with requests for the removal of illegal public channels in Brazil.”

He gave Wilson Diniz Wellisch, the head of telecoms regulator Anatel, 24 hours to implement the suspension, which would last until Telegram complies with outstanding court orders, pays a series of fines and presents a representative of the country in court.

Moraes also ordered Apple and Google to block users of their platforms from using Telegram in Brazil. Apple and Google declined to comment.

Anatel said it had “transmitted the court ruling to entities operating in the regulated sector”.

Telegram, which has proven popular with far-right groups around the world, did not respond to a request for comment. Federal police declined to comment.

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In Germany, where local media reported that in February police blocked 64 Telegram channels, the app has been accused of fueling an increasingly vocal subculture of anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists who exchange information about supposed dangers and organize demonstrations that have degenerated into violence.

In January, Bolsonaro accused the country’s top electoral authority of “cowardice” for considering banning the messaging app amid concerns it was being used to spread “fake news”. (Reporting by Ricardo Brito, Lisandra Paraguassu, Peter Frontini and Pedro Fonseca; Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Stephen Eisenhammer, Jonathan Oatis and Diane Craft)

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